5 things you can do to master allergen control
I’m sure you have noticed recent high-profile cases about allergen control. The Food Standards Agency indicates that there are 4,500 hospital admissions a year because of food allergies. The proportion of people suffering from food allergies is certainly not insignificant: 8% of children, and 2% of adults.
In 2014, in the USA, the most common reason for food recall was an undeclared allergen. Ineffective updates during recipe development a main cause of these undetected problems.
Key aspects of allergen control
BRC Global Standard Food Safety (Issue 8) gives comprehensive guidance about allergen management, particularly in clause 5.3. In a nutshell, food manufacturers should ensure the following:
- There is clear oversight of all ingredients and raw materials that contain allergens.
- There is no cross-contamination.
- Cleaning processes reduce risk of cross-contamination.
This is quite straightforward if you manufacture a few products and rarely reformulate the recipes. However, this is not usually the case. You need to be confident that, when there is new product development (NPD) or product reformulation, communication is crystal-clear.
All documentation needs to be updated. There is the obvious recipe documentation. But this has a domino effect on other documents.
Points to focus on to ensure allergen control
- Ingredients lists. These will appear on packaging. Therefore your packaging/printing supplier needs to be updated. Packagers need to get the date/batch number that the new packaging information applies to absolutely right. So you don’t get mismatch between the ingredients list on the packaging and what’s actually contained in the product.
- Taste-testing trials. Particularly if you tend to use the same pool of people, where laid-back attitudes such as “it’s always all right” may have crept in.
- Cleaning procedures. Ideally you develop a process flow diagram and a plant schematic. So people can easily identify key areas that could be sources of cross-contamination.
It’s key that you link the cleaning procedures with the master list of raw materials. In this way, where the same equipment is used for both allergen-containing products and other products, this equipment is appropriately cleaned. It’s crucial that you have an accessible list detailing which allergen-containing products are produced on equipment that also produces non-allergen containing products.
- Master list of raw materials updates master list of finished products. In this way the master list of finished products will clearly and accurately show which allergens are found in each product.
- Updating staff. Particularly when changes to one production process can risk allergen cross-contamination in other processes and products. Asking for a read receipt to update emails helps. But there is always someone who clicks ‘read’ when they haven’t actually! It’s paramount that supervisors etc speak to each member of staff, on each shift, and verbally communicate this information.
How can you simplify complex processes?
- Accessing information should not add admin burdens to staff. Ideally you integrate allergen-related documentation into existing documentation. So people are not searching for yet another piece of paper or spreadsheet to find the information. Making access to information intuitive and easy will prevent difficulties later on
- Ensure there is an audit-trail. It’s not about covering one’s back! But you need to clearly and easily see what has been done when. So you can quickly identify if there are gaps, and address these gaps; plus plan how to ensure these gaps don’t happen again the next time.
- Move towards collaborative ways of communication, such as workflow solutions. I know people have a love of spreadsheets (?!). But relying on emails and spreadsheets contributes to inefficiency and human error. For example, if the same point of information is in more than one location, you can easily update one location, but not the other.
- Purchasing staff play a very important role. They need to ensure that any replacement materials do not bring new allergens. To what extent are they aware of this responsibility?
Can we help?
Get in touch to discuss how we can help you simplify, and make more reliably, your allergen-control processes.